Friday, March 10, 2017

Thinking About The Word "Gospel" (Part 4)

Part 1 is available here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

AP: It seems likely that the Palestinian community, in a general sense, had already begun to use the word "gospel" to designate the proclamation of the immediate coming of the kingdom of God and of his coming to judge the world, as we can deduce from Matt. 24:14: "This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world, to bear witness to all nations. And then the end will come," which is an editorial text, no doubt. The noun "gospel" does not appear in Luke or John, although the verb "evangelize" appears ten times (Luke 1:19; 2:10; 3:18; 4:18, 43; 7:22; 8:1; 9:6; 16:16; 20:1).

If the text of 1 Cor. 15:1, 3–5 ("I make known to you, brethren, the gospel that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand firm . . . For I delivered unto you as of first importance what I also received: That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried and that he rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, that he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve") is a quotation as most commentators maintain. We can be pretty sure that it came from a Judeo-Hellenistic community, of which Paul is indebted. They began to use the word "gospel" to designate the Christian "message." As we pointed out earlier, in the atmosphere of Greek linguistics, in which both the LXX Bible and the vocabulary of emperor worship coincided, the term "gospel" must have seemed very appropriate to designate the new and true message of universal salvation.

Therefore, the Hellenistic Christian missionaries, who were carriers of a prepauline tradition, and moved by the linguistic use in which they lived, both they and their possible adversaries (those who preached other messages of salvation in the Eastern Mediterranean) employed the noun "gospel," in the singular, to describe the basic formulation of what had happened in Christ (his saving death and resurrection = 1 Cor. 15:3), the summary of Christian missionary preaching (= 1 Thess. 1:5–2:9), faith in the fulfillment of the promise (to Abraham and his offspring, as Paul interprets it in Galatians), the exaltation of Jesus (Rom. 1:1–4) or a brief summary of the preaching of Jesus himself (= Mark 1:15; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10). In this way, the Christian group extended the meaning of "gospel" by creating for it a new and precise semantic content for an old word, a meaning that lasts until today.

Let's turn our attention now to how the lexeme moved from oral gospel to the written gospel.

At first, in the early moments of the group of Jesus' followers gathered around the living belief that he was indeed alive among them, though spiritually, the transmission of the sayings and deeds of Jesus was undoubtedly purely oral. In addition to the fact that this fact was normal at the beginning of the formation of every group of this style, the belief in the immediate coming of Jesus as judge (parousia), to complete his messianic mission, given his apparent failure on the cross which forced him to leave without bringing to completion.

But this mere proclamation of the "good news" to both convinced and potential candidates had to undergo rapid changes. The first was due to the need for internal catechesis, to those who had already embraced the faith. This undoubtedly led to the establishment of formulas of oral tradition (the simple "proclamation"), although in each place with a different form.

Catechesis about Jesus––naturally from the perspective of his resurrection, etc.––made Christians begin to feel the differences between their catechetical teachings about the Master and what the unbelieving Jews, the vast majority, continued to think about him. Judeo-Christian doctrine was formed specifically out of these distinctions.

It is generally accepted that such catechetical formulas are first reflected in Paul's letters (1 Thess. 1:5; 1 Cor 15:3ff.; and Rom. 1:1–4), and secondly in the speeches placed on the lips of Peter and Paul in the Acts of the Apostles (written about A.D. 90), composed by Luke, but which undoubtedly attempted to reflect that early catechesis. Thus, in these Pauline quotations and in the speeches mentioned in Acts, we have a reflection of the first writing of the oral tradition.

Another step in the writing of the oral tradition is what is often called the "leaflet composition." By this expression, which reflects a mere hypothesis, we understand the notes in which the teachings of catechesis were recorded and then carried by the first preachers who announced Jesus first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. Such notes should reflect a general catechesis, and were necessary because the preaching was carried out geographically far from the mother church of Jerusalem, which was the one that kept the personal memories of Jesus. It seems reasonable to assume that preachers felt the need to convey a faithful and common message about Jesus. The medium should be to try to bring together writings of tradition that reflect that common feeling as much as possible.

Here is what Antonio Salas has written about this subject:
"To ward off danger (not to convey righteous tradition about Jesus), Christian preachers needed objective criteria. Where did they find them? It was impossible to appeal in each case to the "Twelve", so it was urgent to have material that guaranteed the genuineness of the doctrinal approaches. Of this there is no direct confirmation. But it is not necessary either, since such has always been the dynamics of a religious movement in search of its identity . . . is it not obvious to suppose that [these "leaflets"] were the ideal vademecum for preachers eager to anchor their teachings in the proclamation of Jesus? 
The previous literary forms would be those same leaflets, wings that the critic alludes to today to explain how, in spite of the abundant options put forth, the same faith was maintained. Each preacher sought the greatest number of such "sheets" that would constitute his personal catechism . . . Each leaf was supposed to pick up some saying attributed to Jesus, which in turn was linked to a concrete fact (eg, miracles).
All these assumptions, although lacking in certainty, provide the most obvious explanation of "literary forms" ("leaflets") intended to harmonize resurrection faith with the historical message of Jesus."  ("Los inicios. Las 'formas' anteriores a los Evangelios," Orígenes del cristianismo [Cordoba: El Almendro, 1995], 28).

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